POLITICS
09/19/2011 02:35 EDT | Updated 11/19/2011 05:12 EST

Alberta Tory leadership hopeful prepare for final sprint to premier's chair

Two former rivals have thrown their support behind the front-runner in the campaign to become Alberta's next premier.

Gary Mar, a cabinet minister from the Ralph Klein era, welcomed the endorsement of former Progressive Conservative party leadership candidates Ted Morton and Rick Orman, who were both eliminated after the party's first ballot vote on the weekend.

Party members must choose between Mar and candidates Alison Redford and Doug Horner in a run-off vote in Edmonton on Oct. 1.

The development is key because Mar won about 41 per cent of the vote on the first ballot. Morton took 12 per cent and Orman 10 per cent. The candidate who gets 50 per cent of the votes plus one on the second ballot will become the next premier.

"Ted and Rick bring their commitment to strong fiscal policy and clear change in how government can work better," Mar said in a news release late Monday afternoon.

"The government needs their voices as we manage the fiscal challenges facing Alberta. I also need their contributions going forward and their assistance in working on national and international issues critical to Alberta."

Mar said the endorsements don't mean he's won the race to be leader.

"It does not put me over the top by any stretch of the imagination because there could still be tens of thousands of new memberships sold between now and 12 days from now.

"I'll be committed to working hard at building our support to take us over the top, but it's by no means a certainty at this point. I don't take the outcome for granted by any stretch."

Mar had a strong showing in constituencies right across the province in the first ballot and positioned himself as the best candidate to unite a party divided by an eight-month campaign.

“Gary represents a strong fiscal voice and has the experience to balance a budget," Morton said in the news release. "He also knows how to build consensus within the party and with our key partners in the federal government."

Morton said his supporters don't want "a repeat of 2006 where a final, very divisive and personal campaign ended up with a less than optimal outcome."

Orman cited Mar's time as Alberta's envoy in Washington as one of the reasons for his support.

"Gary is the candidate with the broad experience necessary to lead this province," Orman said. "He has not been part of recent government decisions and he has the ability to move Alberta forward at this critical time in our history."

Orman also said the "party has spoken".

"If you look at the width and breadth of support Gary got in the first ballot it's quite compelling and to me our party has spoken. We've still got work to do to get over the 50 per cent but our party has spoken across this province and I'm here because I respect that view and I want to win the next election. I want to beat back all of the opposition parties."

Before the Orman and Morton endorsements, Alison Redford said she was working to build on the momentum of her second-place finish.

"We are building networks, reaching out to people, social media, conventional communications," Redford said from her Calgary campaign headquarters.

"It is going to be everything we did in the last eight months condensed into two weeks."

Doug Horner, who came in third in the initial balloting, posted a video on his website thanking his volunteers. His team was also working to increase voter turnout in the next round, especially in rural and northern areas.

Horner said for some reason many of his supporters didn't bother to go to the polls even though his campaign team has veteran Progressive Conservative members from rural ridings, including legislature Speaker Ken Kowalski.

It was Kowalski and a similar group of rural legislature members who helped broker former premier Ralph Klein's leadership victory in 1991.

Horner scoffed at suggestions that some in the party want him to voluntarily quit to make it a two-candidate race.

"The reality is a lot of my vote did not come to the polls and I remain confident that we are going to be able to bring a lot bigger numbers out on the next vote," Horner said from Edmonton.

"My volunteers have told me loud and clear that they want me to see it through to the end, and that is exactly what I want to do."

Some party members have said they fear a repeat of the 2006 campaign where No. 3 candidate Ed Stelmach came up the middle to win in a preferential second-round ballot.

To win the leadership on Oct. 1 a candidate must win 50 per cent, plus one, of the votes. If no one achieves that, the third-place finisher will be dropped and the second-preference votes cast on the eliminated candidate's ballots will be added to the remaining candidates' totals.

Redford, a former justice minister, took 19 per cent of first ballot votes. Horner, a former cabinet minister and deputy premier from a riding just west of Edmonton, took 14.5 per cent.

Doug Griffiths is the lone eliminated candidate who has yet to endorse anyone. He took less than five per cent of Saturday's vote.

— With files from Bill Graveland in Calgary